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Financial Crimes
03/06/2012

5 San Diego-area residents plead guilty to mortgage fraud

26 defendants charged in countywide mortgage fraud investigation by ICE OPR

SAN DIEGO – Two married couples and a licensed real estate appraiser have admitted to participating in a countywide mortgage fraud conspiracy to obtain millions of dollars in fraudulent mortgage loans.

The five are part of a federal indictment handed down in August 2011 charging 26 individuals for their role in an alleged conspiracy to commit wire fraud resulting from a four-year investigation by special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

On Thursday, Al Siapno, a 35-year-old Border Patrol agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in San Diego, and his wife Leila Siapno, 35, also of San Diego, pleaded guilty to felony charges for conspiring to commit wire fraud by making false statements on a mortgage loan application while refinancing their property in an upscale community in northern San Diego County.

A co-conspirator, Matthew McIntyre, 40, a real estate appraiser and resident of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, also pleaded guilty, admitting he misled mortgage lenders about his financial assets by including himself on another person's bank account in order to claim those assets as his own to get a loan on a property in Cardiff. .

Both men are scheduled to appear at a sentencing hearing in federal court May 29 before U.S. District Court Judge John A. Houston. Leila Siapno will be sentenced March 1, 2013.

As part of the same investigation, another married couple pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to defraud a federally-insured institution while refinancing their property located on the same street as the Siapano's.

David Berkenfield, 32, and Kristin Berkenfield, 31, both residents of Virginia Beach, Va., admitted to defrauding mortgage lenders by overstating their income. The married couple falsely claimed the wife's income as $41,000 per month, much higher than the $300 per month she actually earned. The government agreed to dismiss the charges against David Berkenfield provided he does not become involved in any other unlawful activity for one year. His next scheduled court appearance is Dec. 7. Kristin Berkenfield is scheduled to appear in court May 14.

According to the indictment, as part of the far-reaching conspiracy, the defendants allegedly completed, and assisted in the completion of numerous loan applications that listed made-up occupations and sources of income. The false documentation included paperwork showing the loan applicants as owners of investment funds, falsified tax letters and exaggerated appraisals on equity loan applications. A number of the loan applications included income sources from bank accounts not held by the defendants to create the false impression the applicants were financially secure enough to qualify for the requested loans.

The conspiracy charges lodged against the five defendants carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a possible fine of up to $250,000.

The charges arise from a lengthy investigation by OPR, with assistance from CBP's Office of Internal Affairs.